VanderVeen / Photography by Brian Walters
So. You want
to play the biggest, the baddest, the boldest
golf courses the Wolverine State has to
offer do yah? Well, set your season around
these Michigan monoliths – 18 courses
that when challenged from the tips are
the toughest test of your game the land
between the lakes has to offer.
Monsters are ranked on their slope assigned
by the Golf Association of Michigan, in
association with the course rating against
The main purpose for assigning
slope to a golf course is to provide a point
of reference for handicap based on the difficulty
between a scratch golfer and a bogey golfer.
“ It kind of levels the
field so a bogey golfer can get handicap strokes
in relationship to the difficulty of that particular
course,” says Doug Hendershot, ratings
manager for the G.A.M. “The bigger the
differential between scores that a scratch golfer
and bogey golfer would post on a particular course,
the higher the slope will be. A player then can
receive the proper amount of handicap strokes.”
Golf course slope ratings are
based on factors such as overall length, size
of the landing zones, whether trees are in the
landing area or around the green, water hazards,
sand traps, rough height and recoverability,
forced carries, elevation, topography of the
fairway, speed of the greens, green surface and
green size. Also built into the testing is a
psychological value based on the effect of a
hole, according to Hendershot.
“ There seems to be a tendency
to build a course that is harder and get a reputation
that a course is difficult,” Hendershot
“ We’re rating more
sets of tees now, because the newer courses are
trying to accommodate everybody. Players who
play the championship tees should be able to
prove they can play it, or else it could really
slow down play.
“ It’s important for
a player to look at the scorecard and play a
yardage that fits one’s game.”
Here they are. Eighteen Michigan
Monsters by name, architect, slope and course
How many have you played? How
many have you tamed?
Mecosta County, Jim
Engh, 148, 74.9
Checking in at No. 1 is newcomer
Tullymore, a beautifully conditioned golf course
near Canadian Lakes in Mecosta County.
Laid out over 800 acres — including
300 acres of wetlands — Tullymore has narrow
landing areas, trees, high rough, wetlands and
water to deal with throughout the course.
Playing over 7,100 yards from
the back tees, the no. 11 par-3 hole includes
a 250-yard all-carry shot to a blind pin position.
Several doglegs add to the mystique, as do the
combination of long and short holes.
“ If you want to be challenged, you will definitely be challenged,” director
of golf Kevin O’Brien says.
Five sets of tees enable Tullymore
to become increasingly easier to play as you
shave several hundred yards off the course with
Arthur Hills, 147, 76.0
Shepherd’s Hollow is one
of three Arthur Hills’ creations to make
the list of Michigan Monsters.
This 27-hole wonder provides
conditions more commonly found at private clubs.
That means low-cut fairways and fast, fast greens.
“ The greens at Shepherd’s
Hollow are as fast as they come on public courses
in Michigan,” says G.A.M. course rater
Challenges lie in wait virtually
everywhere on the rolling terrain.
The greens are very large, due
in part to the length of the course, which can
play as long as 7,200 yards from the championship
tees. It is definitely one of Southeast Michigan’s
newest and most stringent tests of golf.
“ We definitely have a lot
of players who want to be challenged, and people
seek us out not only because it is visually appealing,
but also from a competitive standpoint,” said
Marty McCabe, head professional. “From
a playability standpoint, the good players want
to come here and play.”
Double JJ Resort,
Rothbury, Arthur Hills, 147, 74.4
The Thoroughbred sets up differently
at virtually every turn. The length from the
back tees can be intimidating with several forced
carries, including one over a scenic, yet troublesome
“ Every shot has to be thought about,” head professional John McGee
said. “You really don’t see a similar shot throughout the golf course.
“ Because of the variations
of par-4s, par-5s and par-3s, you’ll use
every club in your bag. There is no one hole
that looks anything like another hole on the
The natural layout — including
wetlands, trees and the bog — also add
to the challenge.
“ When Art Hills designed
the course, the one thing he did was keep the
natural landscape intact, so some of the fairways
don’t give you a perfectly level lie,” McGee
said. “It adds to the beauty, but at the
same time it adds to the challenge and the difficulty.”
Grand Traverse Resort,
Jack Nicklaus, 146, 76.8
Don’t let Scott Hebert’s
four Michigan Open titles and sub-par scores
fool you. Reputation alone could easily make
The Bear the Godzilla of Michigan golf.
“ You could ask just about
any professional in state of Michigan and they
would tell you the same thing after their experiences
in the Michigan Open,” director of golf
Tom McGee said. “There is so much difficulty
around the greens because they are so well protected
by bunkers and water and tall rough.
he approach shot — especially
when playing from the back tees — is the
“ The landing areas are
pretty good size as a rule from the tee box,
but there are a lot of moguls and heather and
tall rough out there.
“ If you hit a bad shot
on The Bear, it’s going to cost you two
“ We have three golf courses
here now, but The Bear still has the marquee
name and is still one of the toughest tests of
golf in Northern Michigan for sure. People want
to challenge themselves and play it.”
Davison, David Mancour,
“ It’s a great classical
layout that’s in excellent condition with
a lot of length,” head professional Tom
Wojciechoski said. “There are a lot of
courses now with tricked up areas, but Sugarbush
is straight out in front of you, and you have
to use every club in the bag.”
The toughest element to deal
with at Sugarbush may be the greens. Shooting
at the pins could mean trouble.
“ The greens are elevated
and crowned a little bit, and if you miss the
greens, you’ll have a tough time getting
it up and down,” Wojciechoski said.
“ Don’t try to shoot
at pins or be short. If you’re long, you’ll
be in trouble again. There are hazards or severe
slopes behind the greens.
“ We don’t have a
lot of manufactured penalties out there. It’s
errant shots or missing greens that get you into
“ It may be difficult, but
it’s also a pleasure to play.”
Shanty Creek Resort,
Bellaire, Tom Weiskopf, 146, 73.6
Tom Weiskopf said he wanted to
design a golf course that would be fun to play
for all level of golfers. Looking at the scorecard
at Cedar River can be a bit intimidating, however.
The length from the tips is just under 7,000
“ The length off the tee
and the difficulty of the greens make it tough,” Shanty
Creek director of Golf Rodger Jabara said of
the Tom Weiskopf design. “The greens are
relatively flat with some subtleties and can
be very difficult to read.”
All the greens, except for three,
are built on the side of a hill.
Distance alone does not make
Cedar River such a titanic test, an arguable
point when considering the par-3s, the shortest
of which is 190 yards.
“ Although it is not target
golf, you need to hit it in the right place to
have a good shot at the green,” Jabara
said. “It’s a big golf course. The
trees are cleared. It’s like a park in
the roughs. If you miss a fairway, you have an
opportunity to play a shot.”
Tom Doak, 145, 75.3
This mammoth layout is cut deep
into 400 acres of Northern Michigan hardwoods.
The classic bunker design and lengthy 7,044-yard
layout of The Black Forest makes it suitable
for big hitters.
But length alone won’t
get you home. Fast and undulating greens put
a premium on the short game.
British style bunker complexes are both beautiful and challenging.
Did I mention there are trees in the Forest.
“ It’s basically an
adventure into the north woods,” according
to owner David Smith.
The spectacular setting features
marshes, wetlands and Forest-lined fairways.
The par-73 layout features five
sets of tees suitable for an array of players.
But beware: the further back you go, the deeper
you’ll find yourself in the trees.
Golf Club at Apple Mountain
John Sanford, 145, 74.2
There is no low hanging fruit
on this tree. You’ll have to work for par
on every hole at Apple Mountain. A total of 72
bunkers accentuate the lengthy layout. The ponds
have been known to ingest a few balls, too.
“ The real battle is with
the sand,” head professional Brent Redman
said. “The greens are very well protected
by bunkers, only a few greens you can roll the
ball into the hole.”
Apple Mountain features an abundance
of wildlife indigenous to the area. A lot of
earth was moved to create the course. As a result,
the rolling fairways create some sidehill-like
“ There aren’t a lot
of blind shots,” Redman said. “The
key to scoring is to be well positioned off the
Maybe you shouldn’t play the tips. The forward tees have
a slope rating of 131.
Arnold Palmer, 145,
Par 70 says a great deal about
King’s Challenge being among the Top Ten.
Here’s a recurring mantra: keep your shots
in the fairway.
“ What makes it tough is
the penalty you incur for off line shots,” King’s
Challenge general manager Mark Stevenson said. “There
a lot of waste areas out there between holes.”
Water is not a nuisance at King’s
Challenge, but the course is well bunkered. A
couple of doglegs put a premium on shot placement.
The closing hole is a 454-yard par-4 over a pond
and usually into the wind.
“ The best advice I can
give is to make sure you hit the right club off
the tee,” Stevenson said.
The slope is 145 from the back,
but eases to 134 from the blues and 126 from
the forward tees.
Chief at Sky Lodge
John Robinson, Bellaire,
The Chief joined Michigan golf’s
headdress in 2001. It has felled many a brave
who has tried to bring it to its knees.
“ The reason it’s
such a good test from the back tees is that guys
try to hit drivers and you don’t need to
hit drivers all the time,” head professional
Dave Hill said. “You have to play smart.
“ When you go to the bag
and know you should hit 3-wood, but your heart
says driver and you listen to your heart, you
get into trouble.”
“ Course management forces
you to use your brain. If you want to score on
The Chief, you have to check your ego at the
The Chief is a course that becomes
easier to play with course knowledge.
“ We get a lot of replay,
and the average guy knocks five or 10 shots off
his score the second time around”, said
Treetops Sylvan Resort/Masterpiece
Gaylord, Robert Trent
Jones Sr., 144, 75.5
Designed by the late, great Robert
Trent Jones Sr., this is one of the courses that
put Gaylord on the map as a golf destination.
The Masterpiece, like many of
the Gaylord vistas, is built on ridges over heavily
wooded and hilly terrain. The combination of
rolling fairways, strategic bunkering and the
surrounding hardwoods put a premium on accuracy
off the tee. The tricky green complexes test
even those who are most adept with the flat stick.
“ When the resort owner
hired Jones, he wanted a difficult test of golf,
and Mr. Jones complied,” says Treetops
head professional Don White. He was not disappointed.
The golf course is not overly
demanding off the tee, except from the tips,
but it is a difficult task to try to save par
if a green is missed.
“ It is not a course where
the average golfer will score his best, but the
scenery and the beauty of the course is what
keeps people coming back to play it,” White
Matthews, 144, 75.2
Timberstone is the only U.P.
course to make the list and it’s worth
every mile of the drive.
Each hole at Timberstone is framed
by a variety of different pine trees and indigenous
trees, creating an alley effect. The greens are
undulating, but roll smooth and true.
The key to scoring at the 6,937-yard
Timberstone is to remain calm and enjoy the surroundings.
“ Just play smart and play
to the center of the greens,” Fox said. “All
in all, the golf course is just very fair. If
you’re hitting a 5-iron here or at the
local track at home, a 5-iron is still a 5-iron.
“ Look at the yardage, pick
your club, utilize the suggestions on the scorecard
and play your game. And don’t be intimidated
by what’s around you.”
Killian, New Buffalo, 144, 74.3
Golf course architect Ken Killian
knows his way around land, water and wetlands.
Witness Kemper Lakes in suburban Chicago. The
challenge of building Whitaker Woods on the sandy,
marshy soil near the Lake Michigan shore of New
Buffalo was child’s play for a designer
of Killian’s ilk.
“The test begins at the tee,”
said Whittaker Woods general manager Roger Dantischek.
“There is a lot of carry on a lot of the holes.
We have narrow fairways, and if you’re not
accurate with your tee shots, you can have a lot
It can also get very wet. Sixteen
of the 18 holes feature water, either ponds or
“ On a lot of courses, you
can either hit it left or right,” Dantischek
said. “Here, you have to hit it fairly
Whittaker Woods plays over 7,000
yards from the tips with four sets of tees to accommodate
various levels of play. The fairways are secluded.
The greens are large and true and putt well.
Grand Traverse Resort,
Gary Player, 144, 73.9
A fine complement to The Bear
at Grand Traverse Resort, The Wolverine plays
over 7,000 yards from the “monster” tees.
Although somewhat more friendly to play than
its counterpart, The Wolverine can show its teeth
as the Gary Player design provides a challenge
in many facets.
“ There’s a pretty
good sized landing area from the tee box, but
the bunkers out there are strategically placed,” Grand
Traverse Resort director of golf Tom McGee said.
They are not just out there for ambiance.
“ The greens are undulating
and are really tough to read and tough to putt.
They’re true, but tough to read.”
The par-3s from the back tees
play relatively long, the shortest being 183-yards.
“ The Bear and The Wolverine
are totally different,” McGee said.
“ On The Bear, if you hit
the fairway, you’re assured of a good lie.
It’s not the same case on The Wolverine.”
Arthur Hills/Stephen Kircher, 144, 72.4
One of only two 27-hole facilities
to make the illustrious list of Michigan’s
Monsters, Bay Harbor is regarded as one of the
premier golf courses in America.
The Links, Quarry and Preserve
create Bay Harbor, which is as challenging as
it is beautiful. The toughest test may be playing
the Links and Quarry from the tips, two of the
three nine-hole gems creating this Michigan monolith.
“ The Quarry is a little
more target golf because it winds through a quarry
works its way back toward Lake Michigan,” head
pro Bob Fuhrman said. “At The Links, wind
definitely plays a big part. It plays a lot tougher
if the wind is acting up. There are no trees
on the bluffs of Lake Michigan and there can
be some tough shots over the bluffs with heather
type grass in the rough. There are some forced
carries, but you don’t have to be as target
“ They are three distinct
9s,” Fuhrman said. “The Links go
down the shoreline and back, The Quarry goes
through the quarry and out onto the bluffs of
Lake Michigan and The Preserve features more
tree-lined fairways and wetlands. All of them
have a Lake Michigan flavor.”
County, Warren Henderson/ Rick
Smith, 143, 75.1
When it comes to Michigan’s
Monsters, Arcadia Bluffs is Beauty and Beast.
For the most part, golfers will
not be punished by its length, but other factors — such
as the wind blowing off the bluffs of Lake Michigan — add
to the level of difficulty.
“ The irony is that one
of the things that give it its teeth is not included
on the rater’s check list,” Arcadia
Bluffs director of golf and general manager William
Shriver said. “The wind here plays a big
role on how difficult the course will play. Because
there are no trees, the golf course is designed
around prevailing wind.
The fairways are extremely wide
and generous, but for the most part there is
not a flat spot on them.
The aspects that give Arcadia Bluffs its bite are also part of
its charm. They include deep sod wall bunkers, tall heathers, fast
rolling greens — and the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan.
Fifty-two sod wall bunkers traverse
and pepper the course, “but it’s
not like they’re hidden,” defends
“ It’s the green complexes,
fairways, and elements of the wind and the bunkers.
All those things make it challenging.”
Arcadia Bluffs is unlike any
Michigan course you’ve played.
Jerry Matthews, 143, 74.5
Elk Ridge is a Jerry Matthews “thinking
“ The key, like everything
else in golf,” said director of golf Scott
Landane, “is keeping the ball in play.”
Elk Ridge plays over 7,100 yards from the back tees. The elevated
greens make the course play even longer.
The natural beauty of Elk Ridge
is another one of its assets. Set next to state
owned land with one of the largest elk herds
in Michigan, the golf course covers 450 acres
with fairways isolated from each other. Some
holes require forced carries. One par 5 features
a double dogleg.
“ You have to manage the
golf course,” Landane said. “You
just can’t step up and whack the ball.
A lot of the big hitters here keep their drivers
in the bag, because you have to position yourself
on this course to score.”
Gleneagle Golf Club
Mike Shields, 143, 73.1
The lone course on the list that
is not a typical destination stop or resort course,
Gleneagle has some surprises in store for those
who play it. At 6,700 yards, it isn’t overly
long, but the real challenge begins the closer
to the greens one gets.
“ When the course was designed,
it was designed around the flat stick, because
40 to 50 percent of shots in a given round are
around the green,” head professional Tom
Ham said.“ Putting can be fun, but it can
also be very challenging. Especially here.”
There are 13 holes — including
four continuous ponds — where water comes
into play, roughs consisting of heather-type
grasses and condominium developments near the
course. On the backside, there are trees to deal
with on and off the fairway.
“ The yardage isn’t
excessively long, but it’s tough to get
up and down if you miss it in the wrong area,” Ham
said. “It’s a demanding course off
the tee and plays a lot longer than 6,700 yards.
You can’t hit driver whenever you want.
You need to lay up to certain areas.”